How to Start a Mentorship Program That Actually Delivers Results

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Keeping your team engaged and thriving has never been more important than it is in today’s hypercompetitive business world. Enter workplace mentorship programs: Done right, they can bolster everything from employee retention to productivity.

Mentors and Mentees Both Benefit 

For the Mentee:

According to executive leadership consultant Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, having an experienced colleague take you under their wing can help you clarify your long-term career goals. Along the way, you’ll also hone valuable professional skills you can take with you as you progress through your career. Connecting with a mentor who works within your organization is particularly powerful because they can share their own experiences with the company, giving you further insight into the organization’s culture and operations.

Robinson also encourages professionals to embrace the emotional benefits of a mentor-mentee relationship.

“Many employees feel like they can’t be vulnerable or share their whole selves at work,” she says. But opening yourself up to support and guidance from an experienced colleague can boost both confidence and performance.

For the Mentor

Professionals who mentor others are often more satisfied in their careers and more committed to their organizations. Studies also suggest mentors may even see a boost in their own job performance.

According to Robinson, strong mentor-mentee relationships should be mutually beneficial. Imparting your wisdom to a mentee helps them succeed, and the mere act of offering your expertise puts you in a position to examine and improve your own performance, making you a better leader in the process.

How to Start a Mentorship Program in Your Office

According to a study from Olivet Nazarene University, 61 percent of mentor-mentee relationships develop naturally. However, a solid mentorship program can help cultivate more — and more powerful — mentor-mentee relationships. Here’s some advice on getting a mentorship program up and running in your workplace:

1. Check in With HR

You may need to get the okay before launching an internal mentorship program. If HR gives its stamp of approval, consider suggesting that mentorship become part of performance evaluations. Not only will this allow the mentorship program to slot easily into existing leadership development frameworks, but it will also give managers an opportunity to readily take on more of a mentor role with their direct reports.

For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Magazine:

2. Survey Interested Participants

You may want to cultivate support for the mentorship program among your colleagues/team members before bringing your proposal to HR. The more buy-in you have, the easier it will be to get the program approved.

Beyond getting your colleagues’ support, you’ll also want to find out what, exactly, people are looking for in a mentorship. No two mentor-mentee relationships are the same. Some employees want mentors to help them grow in their current position, while others may be seeking big-picture career guidance. In other words, you won’t know what your people’s expectations are until you ask.

Robinson suggests distributing an initial survey to explain why you feel a mentorship program would be valuable to your organization and to solicit input from potential participants. Ask employees what they need in order to make the program beneficial. What kinds of relationships are they seeking, and how would they like to connect with mentors?

“From there, take that information to your leadership team,” Robinson says. “You might say, ‘This is what we were thinking of doing, but after looking at these surveys, this is what people really need right now.'”

3. Determine the Best Way to Pair Participants

Instead of blindly pairing people off, let that initial survey guide you. For example, if some employees say they’d like a mentor to help them grow in their current role, pair them with mentors who are on the same wavelength rather than mentors who will push them to pursue new roles.

Robinson notes that mentor-mentee relationships can also develop organically through shared interests. Something as simple as a company golf outing, for example, can create a perfect environment in which mentors and mentees can let their guards down and connect with one another. According to research from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, high-quality mentoring relationships are built on trust and mutual growth. Encouraging natural connections between mentors and mentees can set the right foundation for the relationships to thrive.

4. Prep Your Mentors

Just as mentees turn to mentors for guidance in their careers, mentors need some support if they are to be the best mentors they can be. You can offer that support by periodically running in-house workshops led by local mentorship experts. Some key subjects you may want to cover in these workshops include: active listening skills, processes and procedures for providing constructive criticism, and strategies for setting goals and tracking progress.

Preparing your mentors also requires some active listening on your part. Hold regular meetings where mentors can share pain points and areas of concern. Based on your mentors’ feedback, you can tailor your support systems to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed.

5. Evaluate Success

Periodically revisit that initial survey you conducted when kicking off the program to ensure the mentorship program is on track to meet employees’ expectations.

“Evaluate things at the end of the year to see if you [have] accomplished those goals and how [you can] tweak the program to make it better,” Robinson says.

A mentorship program is an investment in the future of your workforce. Figure out what your team needs, then create opportunities for relationships to take shape naturally. With the right supports in place, both mentors and mentees should see their job satisfaction and performance improve.

Marianne Hayes is a longtime freelance writer and content marketing specialist.

By Marianne Hayes